Sizeism, Sanism, and the Oppressive Weight of Paternalism

Emily CutlerSarah Knutson
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Emily:

Growing up Jewish, queer, and Autistic in Birmingham, Alabama, I faced a great deal of bullying and prejudice. Instead of stepping in to address the bullying, my parents, teachers, and therapists tried to help me act more “normal,” hide my queerness, and learn how to fit in. I quickly learned one of the most insidious and effective ways that oppression is perpetuated: by holding the oppressed, rather than the oppressor, responsible for it.

In college, I began studying the topic of bullying and getting involved with anti-bullying efforts. I learned that the most common reason children get bullied is due to their weight or size, and instead of preventing this weight-based bullying, many teachers and parents instead encourage children to lose weight. In other words: If you want to be safe in this culture, you need to look the part. 

Sarah:

This is an important aspect of visual privilege. In so many ways, the mainstream ethos is simply: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” As long as you look like everyone else on the outside, and don’t say any different, what you feel on the inside is your business. You want to kill your family, abuse small children, dissect live kittens, build nuclear weapons in your basement, remove your genitals with a hatchet, crash your head into concrete. All good — so long as you say nothing to no one — ever.

That’s the hallmark of visual privilege. No one gives a rip what is going on on your insides. To the contrary, so long as you look good on the outside and play the social part — right job, car, date, SES, haircut, complexion, trainers, threads — everyone automatically assumes that your life is good to go. You only lose that if you open your mouth or violate a norm in some socially visual way. 

That’s the problem, in my experience, as a person of variable sizes. Once my body reaches a certain size, there is literally nowhere to hide. Also, if I lose weight and then gain enough of it back, everyone sees so everyone knows. 

And what is it that they know? The reality is: I could be dying inside. I could be wanting to kill myself. I could be so overwhelmed with life — the pain, the suffering of this world, the thinking I have to fix it because if I don’t no one else will. I could be running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to be everything to everyone who needs anything, because I live in a world where there is so much need and so little caring and, heck, someone has to start caring so why not me… I could be staying up days on end writing petitions, or briefs, or legislation trying to raise consciousness and advocate for those who have given up or can’t or won’t advocate for themselves in order to try and make the world a fairer, more socially just place for all of us…

But what really matters about my life to those I come across when I risk a public viewing:

“You’ve gained weight.”

“Do you really think you need that ice cream?”

“You’re buying regular coca cola…?”

“Wow! Two liters.”

“You have a stain on your shirt.”

“You didn’t comb your hair.”

“I used to go back for seconds too, but then I started asking myself, do I really need that…?

“You could get diabetes from all that sugar.”

You really should take better care of your health.”

“Yanno, you only get one body…”

Fuckers. The reality is I need the 3 liters of coke, the quart of ice cream, dozen doughnuts or bag of cookies (often all three) to have energy to fix the world that you’re letting go to hell in a handbasket.

And, yes, I also need that salty bag of chips to stop the fluid flush from the coffee and caffeine that keeps me trucking along trying to transform tyranny into community long past your nighty-night tuck-in time for your fashion industry-sponsored, healthcare-approved ‘beauty rest.’ Pathetic as it seems, in a world where people have to tell people that “black lives matter” and a lot of people still don’t get it, the appearance of relishing “sleep as self-care” is accorded status on par with sacred rites and patriotic acts.

And yeah, I need the three burgers slathered with mayo, onions and the works to level the blood sugar drop and warm my up blood a bit from the chill of common bitterness that doesn’t bother you. Sad to say, you don’t have to look at because society gives you permission to focus all your attention on crimes against propriety instead of crimes against humanity. And since one of these is my weight, you are morally authorized by the society we live into to put all your energy and attention on that. Yep, instead of doing something about poverty, cruelty, abuse or injustice, you have done your moral duty by all of us if you simply notice and correct my observable transgression of the proper fat to muscle composition — for North American homo sapiens in 2018.

That, in effect, is how visual privilege works. Any questions…?

Well, probably you have some, but even if you don’t, you still should read on here. Because my friend Emily is going to give you this awesome analysis of how visual privilege, sizeism, and psych rights all match up and translate into Massive Sit-On-Top-Of-You-Squash-The-Air-And-Life-Out-Of-You Butt-Headed OPPRESSION with a CAPITAL “O.”

Emily:

I’ve always had thin privilege. But even so, children’s and teenagers’ experiences being told to diet and exercise in order to not be bullied deeply resonated with me. So in my senior year, I decided to take a closer look at sizeism and fat oppression. In the end, I wrote my honors thesis on sizeism in the education system.

And then I was locked up. Not because of my thesis. But because I was stressed out by the end of semester rat-race, and made an off-hand comment to someone to the effect that “I felt like killing myself.” Next thing you know, I was in an ER being interrogated. They held me three days, during which time I was restrained, strip searched, secluded, and forcibly drugged. I actually missed my college graduation — the one I had work so hard for for, yanno, three years of my life….

Since my initial hospitalization, I have become intricately involved in the Mad Pride and the psychiatric survivor movement. For that, I have the fat acceptance movement to thank. It gave me a framework to conceptualize and critically evaluate my experiences.

Paternalism is defined as the policy or practice of restricting a person or group’s freedom or autonomy in their supposed best interest. I had learned a great deal about paternalism for my honors thesis, and through my hospitalization, I saw it firsthand. After my hospitalization, I was told that abuses that had happened to me were “for my own good.” Tempting, I know. But, fortunately I was able to recognize the familiar ring. This is exactly what we tell children, teenagers and people of size about bullying they are subjected to every day:

On a daily basis, people of size are verbally and physically harassed, bullied, mocked, and excluded. They are told that this harassment is acceptable and even necessary. It is considered “caring”: We only want to help you. We care about your health — don’t you? It is considered “responsible.” Thus, friends and co-workers routinely ask intrusive questions: Are you sticking to your diet? Did you take your walk today? It is considered “motivational.” Accordingly, online trolls fat-shame people “so they will be healthier.”

The parallels between sizeism and the oppression that diagnostic labeling creates in the name of mental health are legion. Suffice it to say, my work in the fat acceptance movement continues to inform my work as a psychiatric survivor every day.

Here are the top 4 lessons I learned from the principles of the fat acceptance movement:

  1. Abuses committed for a person’s own good are especially horrific and oppressive.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

People who are perceived as different in any way face a number of horrific abuses every single day, including prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions, marginalization, and even hate crime. Groups facing these types of abuses include ethnic and racial minorities, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, sexual and gender minorities, and disabled people.

In addition to these abuses themselves, many of these groups also face an additional layer of abuse and traumatization: victim-blaming. The definition of victim-blaming is holding the victim of a crime or any wrongdoing partially or entirely responsible for the harm they experienced. Many people who are perceived as different are told that if they acted more “normal” and less different, they would not be abused or marginalized.

To me, abuses committed in the name of health are the ultimate form of victim-blaming. Survivors of these abuses are often told that the abuse is justified and merited because of the way they are acting, the way they speak, or the way they look. In my work with the fat acceptance community, I saw the effects of victim-blaming. People of size are told that they have no right to complain about these abuses. They are told that because they supposedly have control over their weight, they are responsible for their harassment, discrimination, and exclusion. If they were just skinnier, none of this would happen.

Thus, not only are people of size abused, but they have no “right” to their own reality. What they suffered was not “abuse”; it was “help” and justifiable social concern or correction. Hence, they are not allowed to feel hurt or wronged in response because there was only “assistance,” not “abuse.” “I want to feel angry and hurt that this happened to me. I want to hate the people who bullied me,” one person of size said to me. “But the only person I’m allowed to be angry at and hate is myself.”

This kind of socially-sanctioned victim-blaming literally makes people crazy. It strips us of our human need and right to recognize and name what hurts us — and then take rational action to protect ourselves from it and defend ourselves against it.

This is what I experienced as someone labeled mentally ill. I was literally considered responsible for the abuses I had to survive. “If you didn’t want to get locked up, you should’ve kept your mouth shut, instead of blabbing about your suicidal thoughts,” one psychiatric nurse said to me. “You were a real danger to yourself. You should be grateful people cared enough about you to get you committed to a hospital where you could get treatment. You shouldn’t be complaining about it,” I heard from countless friends and family members.

It was absolutely agonizing to question whether or not I deserved the abuses I was subjected to. Thankfully, knowing of the experiences of my allies in the fat acceptance community was a great help. I was quickly able to address the victim-blaming of my friends and family and recognize it for what it was. I also have been able to support many psychiatric survivors in seeing that they are not responsible for the abuse they experienced at the hands of psychiatry. This is one of the primary reasons I continue to do activism work in the psychiatric survivor community — so that others, like me, will know that they are not responsible for the abuse that happened to them as a result of psychiatric labeling.

  1. Social death can be worse than physical death.

Because of the abuses and victim-blaming people of size so often experience, there is a real danger of feeling isolated. As a person of size, it can be very difficult to build positive, supportive relationships free from fat-shaming and other types of harassment. Although many people of size do have rewarding relationships, finding these relationships can be more difficult due to social stigma. As a result, it is common for people of size to feel as if they have no community in which they are free to be themselves and exist as they are. Due to societal prejudice, people of size also often face hiring discrimination and have difficulty finding a job that feels meaningful. They are also less likely to get married or have supportive romantic relationships, which can be a good barrier against social isolation.

Many sociologists and other researchers have referred to this isolation as “social death.” Because the human need for attachment — i.e., meaningful connections with other people— is so strong, social isolation can be a major source of depression, hopelessness, and severe distress. It can cause people to feel intense levels of shame, loneliness, and emptiness.

In my work with the fat acceptance movement, I spoke with many people of size who resonated with these experiences and feelings. Some people of size felt that their family was embarrassed or ashamed of them; others said that they could not go out to lunch or dinner with friends without their meal and food choices being monitored. Many people I spoke with said that this sense of shame and isolation had indeed caused them to feel hopeless and depressed.

It is no wonder, then, that many of the people of size I interviewed and spoke with said they would prefer death to feeling so intensely isolated and lonely. Quite a few expressed feelings of suicidality and desiring to die.

This was my first introduction to the concept that suicidality may not result from a chemical imbalance or a “mental illness,” but from distressing and isolating circumstances. It was also the first time I was exposed to the impact of oppression, prejudice, and bigotry on what we call “mental health.” Up until that point, I had been heavily involved with mainstream mental health advocacy groups like NAMI and Active Minds. My work with the fat acceptance movement set the stage for me to begin questioning the conventional paradigm of mental health care.

When I became an activist in the psychiatric survivors movement, I began to hear this story more and more — the story of people who have experienced suicidality, voice-hearing, and other forms of distress and crisis as a result of traumatic life circumstances including isolation, exclusion, and abuse. After hearing these stories, it was only natural for me to reject the medical model of mental illness and work toward a more trauma-informed understanding.

  1. The notion of “health” is often a bogus and oppressive construct.

 So much abuse, discrimination, and marginalization of people of size is justified in the name of health. As a result, the fat acceptance movement got me thinking about what “health” actually means.

Many people think of “health” as a person’s likelihood of staying alive, or lack of life-threatening or potentially life-ending conditions. Some people argue that weight gain leads to potentially terminal illnesses or conditions. Numerous academics and researchers have done extensive work refuting these arguments. All well and good, but in my opinion, what really hastens the end of a person’s life is shame and isolation. From what I’ve observed in myself and my own existential struggles, there is no faster or surer route to hopelessness, despair, and suicidality than these. I also am fairly sure that my experience is not unique, given what I’ve heard from others and seen in the research.

So, if the goal really is to make someone live longer, then shaming people for their “unhealthy” bodies, policing their food choices, gossiping about how ugly they are, or telling them to “go on a diet” is more likely to achieve the opposite. And, if the goal is to help someone become healthier, care about themselves more, or become more responsible to the community they live in, then bullying, discriminating or marginalizing them is hardly going to help. Moreover, adding insult to injury by denying that is what you are doing, and perverting reality by re-packaging “abuse” as “help” takes the gaslighting charade to a whole new level. To pitch the movie you’d probably say something like: Suicidality Meets Speed-Dating.

The same thing happens with psychiatric labeling. The stated goal of psychiatry is to help people become mentally healthier. All too often though, psychiatric diagnosis and treatment leads to the same kind of shame, humiliation, and marginalization that people of size experience. Upon being told that one’s brain is broken or diseased, or that one is incapable of making their own decisions, many of us feel hopeless and depressed. We logically conclude that our lives as we know them are over. We are routinely excluded from the community and social circle we used to travel. Even when we are not, the feelings we get from ourselves or others may never quite be the same.

Perhaps the most shameful, embarrassing experience of my life is missing my college graduation due to being locked up in a psychiatric institution. Having to tell that to friends, family, and professors — or lie about my experience of this crucial social mile-marker — certainly has not made me want to live longer!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines health as “a condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well.” The fat acceptance movement — which also advocates for acceptance around all food choices — taught me that no one person, no matter what their credentials, or body of people can make a universal declaration about what is or is not healthy (thriving, living well) for someone else. How can anyone — but the person concerned — possibly know what weight, food, drugs, or environment makes them thrive or feel well? There have been times in my life during which I have felt so distressed, hopeless, and isolated that the only thing getting me through the day was looking forward to my evening Diet Coke and a bag of chips. Yes, these things did not make me “fat.” But neither of them meets my doctor’s definition of a healthful food. But, the reality is that, for me, something in me was craving them — such that glugging that Diet Coke and munching that bag of chips was deeply satisfying for some part of me that needed that kind of fizzy, crunchy visceral validation. So, in a sense, even these questionable diet choices contributed to my being overal well being. In other words, these kinds of choices are often situation-driven and highly individual.

Learning this lesson was very important to my work in the psychiatric survivors movement, where so many people have had decisions forcefully made for them in the name of “health.” People who express suicidality are often locked up in psychiatric institutions and hospitals in the name of being kept “safe.” In this case, confinement is carried out for the purpose of lengthening a person’s life. However, the vast majority of psychiatric survivors are traumatized by their experience of involuntary commitment. Not surprisingly, suicide rates increase hundreds of times following release, and the greatest risk of suicide is in the period immediately following release from hospitalization. So whether you define health as a long life, or as thriving and doing well, it’s not like the forced treatment industry is giving anyone — survivors, families, or  communities — a very big bang for the bucks invested.

This leads to a final point. The term “health” is often used as a universal constant. The assumption is that “health” works in the same way for all people. Some things are unhealthy; others are healthy. Just do this or that and you will be “healthy.” This conflates health with the appearance of health — with the visible performance of socially approved health practices and the visible achievement of socially-defined “health” outcomes. In reality, our minds, bodies and experiences of health are diverse. Yes, some general rules apply. But, in the end, we all have our preferences, likes, dislikes, and sensitivities and capacities. A lot of us also probably have our total deal-breakers: the point at which — if we can’t access certain basic things that mean a lot to us — nothing else even matters. The vast majority of this is subjective and has to do with quality of life. All of this points to the wisdom — embraced by the both fat acceptance and psychiatric survivor movements — that the only person who can decide for you what is conducive (or not) to your own health, well-being and thriving is you.

  1. We are all harmed by fatphobia and sizeism, just as we are all harmed by sanism.

It is sometimes tempting to think of the world as a dichotomy between those who are oppressors and those who are oppressed — between those who are privileged and those who are not. In reality, life is much more complicated than that. As I can personally attest, fatphobia potentially affects all of us.

Conventional wisdom among fat acceptance activists is that a fatphobic person is a thin person who is afraid of being fat (or a fat person who is ashamed of themselves). This rings true for me. I have had thin privilege all my life, but I still struggle with the effects of fatphobia. This goes to show how deep the cultural prejudice runs. I wish I was free of fatphobia and continue to challenge sizeism in myself and others when ever it comes up. But, like many people, I was raised in a fairly fatphobic family, and sizeism was part and parcel to my early conditioning. Thus, regular comments were made about how sad or gross it is to be “obese.” My aunt, a person of size, who has always been a role model for me, was mocked and insulted. I grew up with an ever-present fear — no, terror — of gaining weight. I knew the consequences because the world I grew up in made them abundantly clear: If I gained weight and became a person of size, I would be disapproved of by my family and by society at large. Looking back on it, I can clearly see how these attitudes — and my own fatphobia — caused me to struggle with disordered eating throughout college, and very much contributed to my overall distress and anxiety.

The reality is that we live in an appearance-conscious world that gives vast amounts of visual privilege to those (models, athletes, etc.) who are able to meet cultural ideals. This practically guarantees that we will struggle with how we present ourselves to others, if not with our actual size or body image. Consequently, even people with the highest level of thin privilege may harbor great anxiety over how to maintain low weight. Even more important, many of us will turn to harmful, distressing practices — excessive exercise, fad diets, artificial sweeteners — to create the appearance of health. Yet, all the while our attention to actual healthful practices both personally and socially (reduced workload, relief from financial and social stress, sleep, water, nature, deep listening to ourselves and others) is deteriorating. Reducing fatphobia and sizeism would benefit all of us. Taking it a step farther and challenging our cultural obsession with visual privilege would lead to a better relationship with our bodies, ourselves, and each other.

Similarly, the culture we live in gives vast privilege to the appearance of “normal.” All too often, conventional society forces us into categories. For purposes of mental well being, people are perceived (socially diagnosed, assessed, and labeled) as either “normal” (sane) or “crazy” (other). But the reality is that we all struggle with distress, pain, and sadness. We all experience the world in different ways at times and, to some extent, hear voices in one way or another — whether that is the self-critical voice that scrutinizes us in the back of our heads, or voices we conceptualize as distinct entities. But so many people feel that we have to suppress these emotions and unique ways of processing the world. In a sanist world, there is tremendous pressure to appear “neurotypical” (normal /sane) rather than “neurodivergent” (mad/ psychiatric/diagnosable). For the sake of appearances (and survival), most of us repress our emotions and hide our authentic expressions of how we are feeling or thinking in order to fit in.

Just as sizeism does not only harm people of size but also people with thin privilege who experience pressure to maintain their thinness, sanism does not only harm people labeled mentally ill but also people construed as “neurotypical” who face pressure to maintain their facade of normality.

Sarah:

This socially prudent dishonesty hurts all of us. Few of us actually know what the internal worlds of others around us are like. We mostly spend our time guessing and being guessed about. Assumptions are made, and solutions offered, based on pop social theories. Rarely does this get us anywhere worth going with each other, and often it does great harm. All too frequently, we watch helplessly as friends or family melt down, turn to substances, kill themselves or hurt others.

The reality is we could actually know what each other is thinking. We could actually listen, hear, and learn what those we care about deeply want for their own lives and from us as family, friends and allies. We could actually learn together — and from each other — about the deep, rich, rewarding and vastly diverse experience of being human.

But to do that we have to get beyond our obsession with surface appearances. We have to risk the unsafety of something vulnerable, deep, and deeply raw. We have to care more about the fact that the person is in pain, than about the polite social rules they supposedly are violating. In other words, we have to make a decision about what we really value and what values we really want to privilege.

For example, do we care more about:

  1. The fact that something is going on that is affecting someone deeply; or
  2. Whether they break our ideas about social niceties in how they try to cope with it?

Do we care more about:

  1. The fact that someone is going through something that matters greatly to them; or
  2. Whether they violate the rules of polite society for when and how distress, discomfort or outright displeasure should be expressed (if ever at all)?

Do we care more about:

  1. The fact that something important is happening and someone is trying to communicate that to us; or
  2. Whether they follow all our rules and all the rules of our present social world for how communication needs to happen in order to be visually appealing to apparent onlookers.

If you answered 1 — and you actually try to live it — then you get to move on to a world where people care about the deep internal, unseen, hidden realities that are actually happening for other human beings and seek to become true allies of each other’s growth and development as human beings.

If you answered B — and you continue to live it — you get to keep the world we currently live in and continue to have your deepest most important private experiences squashed by the Gargantuan Over-Grown Self-Indulging Self-Gratifying Self-Inflated Oppressive Weight of a conventional visual privilege that is making Big Asses of us all.

Your call.

Emily and Sarah: 

We hope you will join us for an online presentation on this topic tomorrow, Thursday, May 24th, at 8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 PM Pacific, as part of Sarah’s Power Threat Meaning series. The presentation is called “Smashing Paternalism.” We will discuss the parallels and intersections between the psychiatric survivor movement and the fat acceptance movement.

TO JOIN US:

Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879

International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh

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Emily Cutler
Emily Sheera Cutler is a PhD student in Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida, and MIA's assistant editor and community moderator. Ever since her involuntary hospitalization at age 20, she has been passionate about combating paternalism. Her research interests include involuntary commitment, childhood trauma, fat studies, and the social and systemic causes of suicide.
Sarah Knutson
Sarah Knutson is an ex-lawyer, ex-therapist, survivor-activist. She is an organizer/ blogger for Peerly Human (http://peerlyhuman.blogspot.com), and the Wellness & Recovery Human Rights Campaign. Sarah organizes free, peer-run, peer-funded opportunities for ordinary people to offer, receive, share and experience the radically transformative power of unconditional personhood and our own authentic, vulnerable humanity.

186 COMMENTS

  1. Here is the thing I have learned about the power of shame: it lies in collusion. What I mean by that is that if you observe my body with disgust– no, let’s get specific– if you see the large flabby skin that hangs from my upper arm and say something that expresses revulsion, and I agree with you, then I feel ashamed and I carry the weight of that shame. I have colluded in your shaming of me. But if you see my arm and say something vile and I am firm in knowing that you are a troll who oughta be ashamed of their behavior, if I hold firm in radical self-acceptance and kiss my arm flab and thank it for being my Anywhere Pillow when I wanna rest my weary head, then YOU get to be the one to carry the shame because I have refused to collude with you and bully myself.

    One more example of choosing which headspace to occupy and therefore which world to create.

  2. The irony is that efforts to define what is “sane” or “healthy” drive people’s ability or willingness to communicate about any perceived “non-normal” experience underground, which is, in itself, the cause of much of what is called “insanity.”

    I had a new idea about the concept of “sanism.” I don’t like that word, because it implies that there are “sane” people who look down on “insane” people because they are “insane,” and the answer is for the “sane” people to be nicer to the “insane.” I propose the word “normalism,” which represents the tendency to dismiss or denigrate or abuse anyone who veers away from the sacred “norm.” Of course, no one is entirely “normal,” so it creates the possibility of the problem not being deviation from the “norm” so much as the bizarre expectation that everyone should strive for “normal” in the first place.

    Thanks for the excellent article!

    • This is not really up for general debate, as both “sanism” and “mentalism” (once used more frequently) were discussed and adopted by the mental patients liberation movement at the 1976 Boston Conference as meaning essentially the same thing. Normality is just as illusory and subjective as sanity in any case.

      • I think you misunderstand me. I don’t regard ANYONE as being “normal.” I see “normal” as an attempt to control and direct people into behavior that others find more comfortable for them, and if there are enough people agreeing to act a certain way, they are then defined as “normal.” There is nothing more “normal” about this behavior except for the agreement that it is called that, and setting up that standard of “normal” enables those in power to label those who don’t comply as “mentally ill” or whatever other label they want to sling. So I agree 100%, people with “mental illnesses” are for the most part completely normal and either don’t fit in or are reacting to difficult circumstances. It’s the claim that other people are “normal” and the “mentally ill” are not that is the core of what I’m calling “normalism.”

        • Thanks for clarifying. We seem to mostly agree if we can get beyond different perspectives of the world whereby I consider everyone “normal” and you considering no one “normal.” I’ll stick with my perspective for now but do not want to debate this issue since your perspective seems easier to defend.

  3. “This kind of socially-sanctioned victim-blaming literally makes people crazy. It strips us of our human need and right to recognize and name what hurts us — and then take rational action to protect ourselves from it and defend ourselves against it.”

    So clearly stated. Thank you.

  4. I believe that this is an important blog; it identifies two great fallacies of psychiatry. First, psychiatry implies that human interactions are generally civil- that people generally treat each other with a minimum of “common decency and respect.” In reality, the community often treats people cruelly and denies them justice. Secondly, psychiatry implies that human cruelty does not cause emotional suffering- that unjust social ostracizing does not cause emotional suffering- emotional pain. Psychiatry denies our humanity.

  5. Sizeism, Sanism and Paternalism. Growing up on the Right, I really struggle with this kind of stuff. My wife and I like to watch TED talks to expand our understanding of issues, especially those outside our upbringing. We didn’t make it thru the one on a similar topic. But I have sat with your blog and tried to listen and hear what’s behind it even though I do disagree with some of your points.

    It’s always wrong to fat-shame. I never ever do it and can’t even imagine some of the stuff I read and how cruel others can be. Whatever happened to the Golden Rule, sigh? But then again, I have never ever ‘crazy-shamed’ my wife for having d.i.d., not ever. When she got the diagnosis, it helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together why our marriage had struggled for the first 20 years and allowed me to begin to walk with her in a much more gentle and understanding way.

    I struggle to understand the desire to make obesity and/or severe mental health issues ‘normal’ on this website and elsewhere. I try to see it as an understandable reaction when so many have been so cruelly treated. I just don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of seeing it as ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’; however, that doesn’t mean I believe it’s my place to ‘fix’ my wife and certainly not others with whom I have no relationship. So I wouldn’t get in a face-to-face argument with others about their relative physical or mental health: I have enough issues of my own to worry about. But for my wife, her issues have pushed me to be the best, most healthy and balanced person I can be as I walk with her, and as we interact I try to provide her the love, stability and attachment she needs as she heals. However when she makes certain, definitive proclamations about herself/her personality, I usually deflect and just say, “we don’t know how you will be once all of you girls get connected, so let’s just wait until then…” because the other girls have radically changed ‘who’ my wife as a whole is at this point. My main focus for her is the trauma and dissociation and not the outward reflection of her current inward state.

    Thanks for giving me a glimpse of the pain others have to endure, and I will continue to try to hear that and not focus on the areas where we may disagree.
    Sam

  6. Some people argue that weight gain leads to potentially terminal illnesses or conditions. Numerous academics and researchers have done extensive work refuting these arguments.

    Can you provide sources for this, please?

    While I strongly agree with what I take to be the main points of the article – that fat shaming is abusive and that appointing oneself the diet police for any other person is a shitty thing to do – I also feel that this article goes too far in the direction of post-modernism and in doing so unwittingly carries water for proponents
    neoliberalism.

    More specifically, I think it is a mistake to act as if all food is created equal because it is not. It’s true that the most toxic, most nutrient deficient food can be useful to an individual if nothing else is available or if they are using food as a coping mechanism, but that doesn’t make that food beneficial in terms of nutrition. We can respect an individual’s choices while also respecting the right of all humans to good nutrition.

    If every corporate product branded as ‘food’ is beyond criticism because I personally happen to like the taste of it or use it as a coping mechanism, then I cannot also – for example – criticize the Reagan administration for having said that ketchup counts as a vegetable for school lunches. But ketchup is not a vegetable and it’s not a suitable replacement for one.

    I feel that this article strays into hyper-individualism and its overall message suffers for it.

    • Depends on the ketchup actually but I concur with what I think are your basic points. Much of what we eat is not food but, as one of those PBS nutritionists calls it, “food-like substances.” Since puritanism isn’t my thing I wouldn’t “judge” anyone for eating lots of sloppy hamburgers with all the fixings, but this is separate from the health implications of the “standard American diet.” The reason people crave this sort of thing often has much to do with the dependencies on salt and sugar we have been brought up on. Similarly it is up to the individual whether or not they want to be or remain obese, but I don’t think the way to justify that to one’s self or others is to say that there are no health risks involved. Am I missing the point?

      Perhaps it will disturb some people even more when I say that I do get tired of primarily white American youth (I use the term broadly) being so concerned about the vicissitudes of their social lives when we are all the heirs of a system based on slavery, colonialism and genocide, and which has no intention of relinquishing its predatory goals. Does anyone still have a greater vision?

      • Oldhead

        I would add to your point by talking about the evolution of food production and standards in America, especially over the past 60 years.

        It is very clear that the American food industry (to raise their profit levels) very consciously became aware of the addictive nature of producing food with higher levels of salt, sugar, and saturated fats. These food substances very clearly access the hedonic pathways in human brain chemistry, very similar to a brain and behavior process that occurs with other more commonly used addictive drugs.

        It is no accident that millions of people on the planet are attracted to these foods and obtain some level of comfort in consuming them. Just one more reason why capitalism must be eliminated to advance human evolution through Revolution.

        Richard

        • To All

          I would hope that people would respond to my above point about trends in the for profit food industry over the past half century.

          Where I might disagree with the authors, is whether or not we should talk about obesity as a general social phenomena in late stage capitalism. I think having these discussions is fundamentally different than “fat shaming” and “sizeism” that gets directed towards INDIVIDUALS.

          This trend in higher rates of obesity is reflective of increased stress and oppression in society, and is not an overall healthy trend for both physical and psychological reasons for the broad masses of people..

          Here I am talking about addressing these issues of food production and advertising on an institutional and systemic level. People must be made aware that the “for profit” capitalist system DOES NOT have their best interests at heart (in a million ways) when it comes to promoting so-called healthy lifestyles.

          Richard

          • Emily

            Where we agree:

            NOT telling people that their different (from social norms) behaviors and emotional states are “bad” for them and others, and therefore must be “treated,” and

            NOT telling someone that their fatness is “bad” for them and they should make “healthier” choices in their life and/or be “treated” for this condition.

            Both of these situations (as currently addressed in today’s society) I described above come across as judgemental, shaming, and fit into a category of “blaming the person” for whatever problems and/or distress they may experience related to these states of being. Both harm people in extreme ways at times, and do not help them.

            And yes, capitalism has convinced us that there is a too broad of a definition of obesity (culturally imposed norms regarding both health and beauty standards), AND (as it will ALWAYS do) seeks to profit from the very problems and/or conditions they themselves have a direct role in creating.

            I often refer to their type of pseudo-scientific theories as so-called “genetic theories of original sin.” (As if these are inherent flaws in human nature, instead of representing major flaws in the way society is organized around ownership, production and distribution). This was a phrase coined by the famous sociologist, Ashley Montagu.

            Where we disagree:

            I believe there has been a significant rise in obesity/fatness over the past 60 years that, overall, has diminished the health of the broad masses of people. And I belief legitimate science can back this up.

            Yes, some heavy people are quite fit and meet many of these legitimate health standards. But when it comes to heart health and overall effects on joints etc., many overweight people fall short of healthy standards and will suffer negative effects from this, in both the short and long term. Most people already know this to be true.

            BTW, my having said the above statement, does NOT mean it is okay to go around shaming people or telling them they are unhealthy. Here we are talking about general trends in society, that frankly the “Powers That Be” do NOT want people knowing the actual origins of these kind of societal problems. (see below)

            This is directly related to the “for profit” capitalist food industry producing and advertising foods with higher and higher levels of salt, sugar, and saturated fats. All this is combined with higher stress levels related to other forms of alienation and trauma within a class based society.This has all been done, similar to the cigarette industry, knowing that these ingredients have addictive qualities to the human brain and body, similar to other addictive drugs in society, and that people will be “forced” to continue using them at higher and higher levels over time.

            So here I am making the point that there is, and needs to be, a QUALITATIVELY DIFFERENT approach to addressing (OR NOT ADDRESSING) these issues when dealing with people who might be labeled as “obese” and or “fat,” AND when we start discussing these issues as broader questions confronting society as a whole. This is ESPECIALLY true when we start talking about issues of “blame” and “responsibility” in society for the existence of these sorts of problems, and for how we might find solutions.

            Richard

    • Hi Uprising – I have to agree with you that – at least in my experience – some things (vegetables, exercise, self-acceptance) seem to promote life and vitality for me more than others (coca cola, doughnuts, ice cream, writing comments like this instead of doing yoga or getting out on my bike). I also identify as gay and have to admit that the fact that conversion therapy exists at all makes me bristle a little on the inside. At the same time, when I reflect on this more, what I think I fear the most is really not that these choices exist. It is the coercive way that mainstream culture feels entitled to impose them on those of us it sees as social outsiders. Thus for me the fundamental injury that human beings do to each other revolves around the issue of ‘choice’. In my experience, those with mainstream values or roles have often seemed to feel quite to substitute their judgment for mine when I either could not or would not tow the mainstream line. In other words, these mainstream enforcers seemed to me to feel basically entitled to overwrite my personhood – including my personal priorities, needs or values of how it is right for me to live – in any area of where my life that didn’t comport with expected norms. As a result, I’ve spent much of my life living with an ever-present awareness (and related fear and anxiety) that if I don’t comply, someone with more social power than I have will feel entitled to make my life miserable and proceed to do just that. In my experience, this kind of social targeting can go way beyond someone denying me basic dignity and regard. It can mean the difference between passing college courses, getting a degree, getting or keeping a job, getting or keeping friends, accessing benefits…. In other words, it can mean the difference between having the social network and/ or economic means to meet my basic survival needs or dying in a gutter. It’s this coercive use of mainstream opinion – not the fact that a broad range of choices (some clearly more objectively ‘healthful’ than others on average) — that, for me, has been the most personally damaging to both my physical and mental well-being.

      • I think people — and not only in this particular discussion — need to better define what they mean by “mainstream,” something I see as largely illusionary, a myth fostered by the corporate media about how americans think and what they truly believe. It’s whatever vestige of the American Dream they can still manage to get people identifying with. So I think what people mean by this needs to be more closely examined, because when explored I think what is seen as “mainstream” will bear an uncanny resemblance to the sort of cheery zombified mentality you might find in the typical situation comedy sponsored by some tentacle of Pharma.

        The subjects of coercion and “choice” as pertaining to psychiatry are often debated by AP “theorists,” as these often come down to matters of context, and are often relative. As Sarah points out, some “choices” are made as choices between two unacceptable propositions, one of which will be imposed in any event. This often takes the form of “voluntary treatment” being “chosen” as the “best alternative” to some kind of court commitment. But neurotoxins don’t discriminate.

  7. “This is what I experienced as someone labeled mentally ill. I was literally considered responsible for the abuses I had to survive. ‘If you didn’t want to get locked up, you should’ve kept your mouth shut, instead of blabbing about your suicidal thoughts,’ one psychiatric nurse said to me. ‘You were a real danger to yourself. You should be grateful people cared enough about you to get you committed to a hospital where you could get treatment. You shouldn’t be complaining about it,’ I heard from countless friends and family members.”

    This really struck a chord with me, big time. Insidious abuse, and most unfortunately, I have found it to be the norm in pretty much all of mainstream society–but, indeed, rampant and standard procedure in the “mental health”-related world. It is crazy-making. Finally, I was able to cut through this in a legal action, which only occurred because I kept getting these kinds of responses from my co-workers in social services. And they actually liked me, quite a bit! It was, indeed, “for my own good.” They were trying to correct me, to help me save my job.

    I’d gone from client to staff at a “non-profit” vocational rehabilitation agency, and in that process of “rehabilitation”–despite doing unequivocally successful work with clients given that I was extremely empathic to their journey at that point, all of us getting back to work after a period of disability–I’d make mistakes here and there with respect to what management expected in terms of communication, stuff like that, and they’d go to great lengths to reprimand, punish, and stonewall me when I attempted to respond in defense of myself. It was insanely trivial, and had nothing to do with my work with clients. The “rehabilitation” aspect of this eluded me, which is something I pointed out in my eventual mediation. It was more like bully methods of management, given their attitude toward the population they were contracted and granted money to “serve.”

    My situation turned into out and out bullying, extremely abusive, and people knew it, it was obvious. I was still recovering from psych drugs damage after only a few months of having started my withdrawal, and I was pretty meek overall, very shaky in, both, my body and in my self-worth, even though my work with clients went well, I was intuitive with this. Didn’t matter. I favored client issues over management ego, and that truly got me into trouble.

    I was denied support and advocacy in favor of facing panels of management on my own, including one private 1-1 meeting with the President of this agency which was so off the charts, I put in writing how unsafe I felt being alone with this guy. Denial of support at that time was a huge legal infraction, and I knew it. They wouldn’t hear of it, and condemned me for suggesting that I was being discriminated against and was having my rights as a transitioning employee denied. So, I shouldn’t have said it? No way I could not, it was too blatant to not call it out.

    And doing so began my journey back to self-respect after 3+ years of taking CRAP from the system because of how I’d been programmed by my upbringing. This was my awakening, finally, to systemic bullying and abuse. What also awoke in me was the post-traumatic stress from all this. I had no idea how badly the public therapists and social workers (including the ones I liked, who had become my friends; they just didn’t know better, it was the example set in the system) had been affecting me until I saw it for what it was. Then, I could start to heal from this, and it runs deep, as many of us know.

    Not thinking it would be possible to find a free lawyer, I started taking steps to look for work elsewhere, but in that process, they fired me because I was not letting them control me this way and I had “the nerve” to fight back and own my personal power. How I was working with clients had nothing to do with anything, it was all about control, and it was so abusive, it was hard for people to believe. But an attorney did and then a mediator did when it was proven beyond a doubt. This agency is no longer in existence. They preferred to close rather than to change their view about people who have been diagnosed as “mentally ill/disabled”, which was the population they served. Really over the top abuse, Dickensian-style.

    Given that it was my first job in a few years and I was really enjoying so much working with clients again–and doing very well on top of it judging by how I was able to match clients with work they liked—I tried in all directions to work things out with them, and especially, I turned to my co-workers, a couple of whom I had become friends with, and asked for their feedback.

    The reason I ended up taking legal action is because as I was trying to get some clarity and support in order to work things out as they were doing this systematically over a couple of months, my co-workers–who were sympathetic because they did like me quite a bit, but who were so scared of management–did blame me for what was happening because I was not “playing the game.” I was told “don’t say this” and “don’t say that,” management is really sensitive.

    One of them told me how “vicious” the President of this place could be if “crossed,” (which didn’t take much for him to feel this way, apparently) so I should learn to “shut my mouth.” She told me this in this very loving way, she wanted to help me save my job and not make waves, that it would come back to haunt and I’d lose my job. She was right of course.

    This co-worker had also been client-to-staff, years before me, and had been passed over for promotion quite often, another elephant in the office. I could understand that she was happy to be working at all, I felt really fortunate to be working again. But at what cost, if the price is “take the abuse!”? Standing outside of it, it seems obvious that we would not want to take the abuse. But when working after a period of not working and not having money, things can get blurry. The problem is, the system knows this, and they take full advantage of it, which is nothing short of oppression through blatant power abuse.

    That is a powerful and debilitating double-bind, purely systemic abuse, where victims of the system are, in turn, driven by fear to enable that same system. Calling it out, distancing from it—both really good actions, I think. That is just too toxic for words.

    Thanks for the insightful article, some great truths here I think.

  8. CN: suicide mention

    Jus as an FYI:
    Some people can be very turned off when the second-person is used to address your readers; no matter the tone.
    Your tone was completely appropriate and spot on, but the words were difficult to process for some readers.
    I myself agree with what you are saying, and I understand it.
    But others reading with/through me had to have the words explained; so as to let them know they werent being accused of being things or doing things to which they are morally opposed.
    As I said, the tone was appropriate and justified; it was the use of the second-person pronoun (called “accusatory tense”) that dismayed some of my sisters from reading the article with me.
    -Pride

    ***
    [Joy is responding through me. I am providing edits for clarity.-Pride]

    Hi, this is Joy.
    I was one of the people Pride was talking about reading this.
    I was cool with it since I identify w the getting judged because of how you look, but when i though it started getting about me, I got offensive [sic].
    [“Offensive” is the appropriate word for her reaction. She becomes very offensive when she feels offended. -P]
    I had to read it again and now I’m cool with it. It’s ok. But I want to try to tell you why it made me squick.

    If [someone] is too “pretty” they get called a sl*t and get bullied for it. It happens a lot w sex workers, esp [adult-film actresses] but even if the person is totally [chaste] they still get this kind of thing.
    So it’s like “be pretty, but not too pretty to be [desirable]” cuz if you are [desirable] that means you’re a bad person who needs to be [“taken down a notch”/assaulted/murdered].
    What’s that supposed to do? Make people want to [harm/disfigure/intentionally kill themselves] to [achieve moral superiority]?
    Thats whats there that I don’t know if it isn’t there with [sizism] and sanjsm [sic] is an subtle motive to kill “pretty” people. School shooters do it. That [Alt-Right/misogynist] Roger Elliot [sic] did it. He even wrote about it in his big boring story book that that’s what he wanted to do and part of why he did it.

    Ppl hate “pretty” ppl and it’s considered totally socially OK.
    W sizism and saniam [sic] there’s a lot of social rejection, [various other forms of institutional/systemic oppressions] and stigma.

    [What follows is Joy describing her most volatile “trigger” that sends her into a manic “Rage-State”-P]

    W sex workers, you can feel like people want to actually harm them because [non-sexworkers] think [non-sex workers] are better than [sex workers].
    [sex workers are seen as ‘disposable’]
    It hate that. [Repeated 2 times-P]
    It’s sick. [Repeated 3 times-P]
    That kind of morals needs to [be forcefully abolished/anihilated/erased]!

    I don’t know if that’s also common w ppl who get oppressed w sisizm [sic] and sanism, I don’t hear about it that much from them.
    Both victims of sizism and sanism and [those judged morally inferior based on their desirability] get suicide-baited. I know that. But i don’t know if it’s common to have that kind of wanting to kill them.
    I don’t know what to call this.
    Some people call it “Sl*t Shaming”. Some want to reclaim “Sl*t”, but I think it’s almost a slur.

    -Joy (it’s ok that Pride edited for me since they consider this a more “formal” setting but still wanted to let me to talk like I do. Thx-J)

    • I love these comments Pride and Joy – they are so rich. It’s really true for me that sizeism – like all oppression – cuts both ways. In this article, I was emphasizing the ways that social othering based on big sizes has hurt me. In many ways, I’ve FELT that pain a lot more and the fear of it a lot more. But yes, it totally boomerangs around. As tends to happen in a world that values money more than honesty, integrity and kindness, things that are viewed as socially attractive get commoditized and sold. AND, once the culture commoditizes something and sells it as a ‘product’ then it gets treated – even if it is a human quality or a PERSON – as something the buyer has a ‘right’ to ‘own’ and treat as their personal OBJECT to do with what they want. That’s how business/ contract law works in this culture. You are right to point out that it is horribly wrong. You are also right, in my opinion, to connect this as the dark underbelly of the fat-shaming oppression that Emily and I focus on here. To me, it also seems to intersect painfully with sexism/ misogyny where it’s AOK to treat women as OBJECTS – merely BODIES that are there for the pleasure or service of paternalistic others who – in their eyes – are doing what is ‘right’ for the world, manaqing everything and everyone in the name of ‘progress’ and telling themselves that they (and their group) are responsible for making everything ‘important’ to human society happen. Like oldhead says a lot here, at least for me, that’s the trauma we take home because so many of us are uncritically buying, wholesale, the bullshit that capitalism (and all the others isms) that mainstream society are selling us.

      • That’s how business/ contract law works in this culture.

        That’s how capitalism works period. (Not trying to be picky, just had to interject that.)

        Very important, the points you make about the commodification of all things human; it’s what this system has become to a greater degree than ever before. I’m frequently disgusted at TV commercials where people evoke intimate emotion, often involving tears or near-tears, to sell some fucking product. Was it Glade air fresheners (asking cuz I don’t want to be sued) that had the Christmas commercial showing real children with real glowing faces singing Christmas hymns — without the awareness of how their “spiritual” experience was going to be used?

  9. Emily and Sarah

    Thank you so much for this very educational and extremely challenging blog. I say, “challenging,” because of all the kinds of prejudices in our sick society this is the one (if I am willing to be honest) that I struggle with the most.

    Having been a radical political activist since the 1960’s I try to be a critical thinker about all forms of oppression and seek to take the most advanced political and morally correct stand that I possibly can, and then act accordingly.

    You both have deepened my understanding about this form of oppression (from your personal and political perspectives) and it has definitely changed my thinking, and I hope it will manifest itself in my future behavior.

    Now to my questions and concerns. Emily, you write very passionately about your own aspects of “thin privilege” and “fat phobia” throughout your life and how this has caused a great deal of anxiety and pressure in life. I am sure this whole issue can be quite different for women in this society (where the women’s body is “objectified”) and the resulting related trauma is so much higher than it is for most men.

    For me the issue of “fat phobia” and health standards “divides into two.” Yes, I have been deeply affected by our culture and all the pressures and the standards of beauty. However, at some point in our life we each develop our own sense of personal identity (and it is always in flux) that, yes, is shaped by these cultural norms, but also has its own individual character that we may grow comfortable with in both our mind and body. And it may end up conforming to how we, as an individual, define what it means to be “healthy.”

    For me, being athletic from a young age and desiring a goal of physical fitness became something that made me feel good about myself in my own body. That is, a sense of physical awareness about the various muscle groups and a positive feeling from the sense of muscle contractions (through weight training type exercises) and a sense of muscle tone and aerobic conditioning from the sports I was playing. In fact, I would say that my involvement in sports in high school may have been one important thing that shielded me from some of the negative effects of all the other kinds of pressures that push many youth over the edge during this very vulnerable part of their life.

    And as to the way some people maintain a certain weight standard that might be labeled “thin” or “normal.” For some people like myself this may evolve (over many years) into some type of internal body “set point” that allows a person to stay at the same “lower” weight. I am now 70 years old and only 10 pounds heavier than my high school weight. Of course, I am flabbier and more wrinkly in appearance, but still have the overall sense of body awareness (that I had as a youth) in regards to the weight I feel most comfortable with and the one fits my sense of personal identity.

    I believe this point I am making about my “set point” and sense of body awareness can overall manifest itself in eating behaviors that tend to offset each other. For example, If I overeat or over indulge in certain foods on one day I subconsciously tend to back off the next day as a way of maintaining this “set point.” This is NOT a process of self shaming or berating myself about so-called bad behaviors the prior day, it just happens (a behavior pattern that has evolved over 70 years) to allow me to sustain the “set point” of weight that I feel most comfortable with and that corresponds to my self identity.

    I do NOT separate all this from cultural norms and societal influences, but neither do I choose to call myself primarily “fat phobic” because these thoughts and behaviors (about food and exercise) have evolved in my life and help keep me aligned to those standards that I value as “healthy.”

    When humanity reaches a stage in history when there is no class oppression and all the other forms of trauma and human degradation are eliminated (a stage of history well beyond a profit based/capitalist system), I do believe human beings will evolve to a point where we will both understand what “healthy” standards are (for eating and exercise behaviors), AND most importantly, EVERY ONE will have the freedom to access those standards.

    And while there will be a multitude of personal differences in the categories of size and eating behaviors, there will NOT exist the types of behavioral and emotional extremes that pervades our current society and that bring with them all the related forms of oppression and human degradation.

    What does it say about American capitalist society (the richest and most powerful country on the planet with overall less than 5% of the world’s population) that it concentrates the highest rates of people labeled as “obese” and the highest rates of people labeled as “anorexic.”???

    Richard

    • Hi Richard – really great comments. I love this question: “What does it say about American capitalist society (the richest and most powerful country on the planet with overall less than 5% of the world’s population) that it concentrates the highest rates of people labeled as “obese” and the highest rates of people labeled as ‘anorexic.’???”

      This leads to another factor that we really didn’t touch on in our blog, but seems really important. It strikes me that both eating and not eating are stress / survival responses. In other words, physically the body’s survival response shuts down digestive processes during stress (consistent with anorexia). Plus, once you come out of a stress/ survival response, the balance of glucocorticoids in the blood stream leads to intense food cravings (consistent with binge eating and bulimia). Beyond that, because digestion is compromised in stressful circumstances, lots of us tend to crave highly processed foods that are easily and rapidly digestible. Also, the craving many of us have for salty foods could potentially be explained by the need to conserve fluids in high-stress survival settings.

      The convergence of these factors, plus my own experience in a dog-eat-dog survival-of-the-most-obsequious job market that exists in the USA today, is that tons of us are stressed out about just surviving – and our bodies are showing it.

      • Yes, Sarah, all very good points.

        And just as Emily made the point that maybe there could be a seemingly unconscious desire on the part of fat people to take up more space as a form of “in your face” to those who promote the “thin is good and beautiful,” there ALSO can be an opposite form of these tendencies as well.

        For example, I have heard people who work in this field theorize that anorexia can represent a desire to “disappear” by getting smaller and smaller. And also, as a way to remove any outward signs of female sexuality (smaller hips and no breasts) to avoid being viewed or pursued as a sexual object in our society.

        The same could be said for fat women, who are also removing the more overt physical forms of sexuality, as a way to avoid conforming to cultural standards of “beauty” and as a way to avoid being approached as a sexual object in our society.

        All of this is such a sad commentary regarding the high rates of sexual abuse and trauma in our society, and what people are forced to do consciously, or unconsciously, as a way to cope with this madness and the related cultural norms regarding the treatment of women.

        Richard

  10. Emily, I think there’s an aspect of your argument that has been overlooked and shouldn’t be.
    I’m referring to the concept of a hierarchy of pleasure/wellbeing/whatever you want to call it.
    Let’s take your example of enjoying a Diet Coke and a bag of chips.
    Another person might also enjoy those, but enjoy listening to a string quartet more.
    Another person might also like junk food, but appreciate a gourmet meal even more.
    Another person might like junk food and have never been exposed to gourmet food/classical music in his life, and assume that the summit of his aspirations in pleasure is coke and chips.
    Would you prefer to keep such a person in the dark and allow him to wallow in his baser pleasures (yes, I realize that you might find that expression offensive), or would you think that he deserves to be exposed to a wider spectrum of pleasures, and then, would be more able to make an informed decision as to which he will choose (because, as we all know, nobody can have it all)?

    The same applies to healing, of course. A person who has known nothing other than a life of, for instance, borderline depression, has no experience of feeling true contentment and fulfillment, or whatever other sublime pleasures. Their “choice not to heal” is not really a choice in any meaningful sense. As such, people like samruck, who open up others to seeing the potential that they themselves have no idea exists, should be lauded and supported, not subtly chastised.
    Thus, your seemingly liberal and tolerant stance of “respecting their choice not to heal” can easily be very condescending in many cases, as well as leading to condemning people to an unenlightened life. (Needless to add, many totalitarian regimes have aggressively pursued such tactics, preferring to keep their serfs in the dark – let them be happy with their black bread and onion.)

    You also ignore any motivation for a deed that is not solely in the present. Yes, a can of coke can be delicious and fizzy and “comforting” – and yet, how will the person feel about having guzzled it the next day?
    Conversely, resisting that can of coke will possibly bring “unhappiness” in the moment but a sense of satisfaction at having resisted baser pleasures for a greater goal of health in the long term.

    I also challenge your assumption that people have “fatphobia” are afraid of becoming fat themselves. I think that it is more that they feel the challenge within their own lives, of resisting the easily available empty junk, and see the fat person as unable to resist the challenge. Someone with self-control is very likely to look down on someone without it, although they may feel pity rather than revulsion.

    I do hope you will respond to my comments.
    Gabi

    • Gabi, I think you are making some assumptions about what health is and what is healthy for all people. I am more often than not, as you would say “borderline depressed”. I am sad a lot of the time and tired and lack motivation to do a lot of things. But that’s not actually unhealthy for me, and there is nothing about those experiences that I need to “heal”. I am sad because of oppression that I have to face every day as someone who is queer, gender variant, mad, neurodivergent, kinda fat, and poor. I do not need to heal from those things, I need an environment that doesn’t oppress me for them. I do make choices that other people may view as unhealthy, but I make those choices due to limited available options and a need to survive. “Unhealthy” food is often all I can afford. I maybe don’t need to consume as much sugar as I do, but it is a pleasurable experience and in my world those are hard to come by. I can’t afford nice things and this world continuously tells me not to exist. So why can’t I eat a cupcake? I do not regret or feel ashamed about any sugary snack I’ve eaten ever.

      Maybe I would be thinner if I ate less “unhealthy” food. But I actually really like my body how it is. This weight is perfectly healthy for me. Things that put my health at risk though are not my eating choices, but the discrimination I face when I have to interface with a sizeist, sanist, classist, and transphobic healthcare system. Its really hard for me to access healthcare without there being actual tangible threats to my wellbeing.

      • It’s really semantics. If you’re looking for a different environment to thrive in, then that is also a form of “healing” in that it implies that things are not good the way they are, which you clearly admit, though you blame the rest of the world rather than including your own choices as part of the mix, which I would suggest you might examine if you wish.

        As for not being able to afford nice things – you’re taking a very narrow view of enjoyment. Does a sunset cost money? A walk in nature? A swim in a natural lake? A deep conversation with a good friend?

        Also, there are cheap nutritious foods available, though they take time and effort, much more than eating a cupcake. Beans and rice? Brown rice which is so much more filling than cheaper, empty white rice?

        And, you’re saying there’s nothing bad about being sad. You have no preference re: being happy versus sad. Really? I have a hard time believing that.

        • You know what, I’m really not looking for suggestions from someone I don’t know. I’ve been having a very difficult time surviving for the past several years. Sunsets are nice, justice would be better. So I’m fighting, everyday, and trying to survive and not die. And no I need cupcakes and coke sometimes.

        • gabi taylor

          You have totally missed the main points in this blog and have now resorted to giving “advice” to the authors, and to some commenters, about how they could be “happier” and “healthier” in their lives. This really ends up shaming them for their past choices and/or future choices, and it fails to understand the essence of “sizeism” and “sanism.”.

          The bottom line is that we live in a very oppressive society that “others” and “isolates” all those who have developed all types of socially unacceptable coping mechanisms to manage and survive in this extremely oppressive and insane world. Both “sizeism and “sanism” are just two forms of oppression in this sick society that ends up “blaming the victims.”

          My earlier points (and more recent comments) are not meant, in any way, to undercut the main essence of this blog. I do have some problems with a much more secondary current in this blog that tends towards a form of
          “hyper-individualism” and “Libertarianism.”

          I totally agree with Katethewolf’s comment:

          “Sunsets are nice, justice would be better.”

          Richard

          • “all those who have developed all types of socially unacceptable coping mechanisms”
            Are you saying that the only thing wrong with, let’s say, binge-eating, is that it’s socially unacceptable? That if we were all to agree that there’s nothing wrong with it, then it would be a perfectly reasonable way to deal with the world?

            Sunsets and justice are not mutually exclusive, by the way.

            So, if you want to go Emily’s way and say that there really is no qualitative difference between finding one’s fulfillment in a cupcake or composing a concerto, go right ahead.

            If someone told me that for me, it’s good enough to eat black bread and onions – that gourmet food is for those sophisticated enough (or sane enough, if you like) to enjoy it, then I would be insulted. I think that all of us have the potential to reach for higher pleasures and not settle for less. Why does that make me judgmental? To the contrary – I think that telling someone to stay happy with what they know and never find out more is totally condescending and demeaning.

          • gabi taylor

            You seem to be venturing into some sort of version of “positive psychology,” where perhaps you believe all people can and should find a way to “happiness” in this world, IF they just make the right choices (or think the right way) in life. This new trend and form of therapy actually does great harm to people who have very good reasons (suffering from real oppression) feeling depressed or being socially and psychologically detached from the world in some way.

            Depression, “psychosis,” manic behavior, fatness etc. etc. – they all represent a form of social protest, and they serve as a major public indication that we live in a very oppressive world. These forms of protest are not necessarily consciously carried out or planned, but they are a form of protest never the less. Some people may live their entire life in this state of being. Should they be made to feel shamed or somehow responsible for maintaining this form of coping mechanism within a difficult world?

            The first three examples I gave might, at times, preclude a person from engaging in actual more conscious forms of protest due to their debilitating effects. Someone who is overweight, according to socially acceptable standards (or even medical standards that calls them obese), can still become an active participant in any, and all, forms of organized protest to confront all forms of oppression and seek systemic changes in the world.

            I am going to stop telling (or judging) people (including my own grown children) that they could make better choices in their life regarding food and exercise. They have already been judged as “less than” in this world, and I don’t want to, in any way, contribute more to their oppression.

            People can be decent loving human beings AND full participants in revolutionary change regardless of their size. When a true Revolution occurs in this world, we will then be fully free to explore (without the profit motive corrupting science and everything else) what it means to be “healthy.” And when all oppressive institutions are torn down then (and only then) will people be truly free to make fully informed and non-pressured choices that will benefit both them and their community in a better way.

            Richard

          • I’m glad you mentioned your children. I’m sure when they were growing up, you gave them plenty of information and advice on what you think are healthy modes of living, and saw that as intrinsic to being a responsible parent.
            What about someone who grew up with irresponsible parents? Should they never be exposed to good information, because that might inadvertently shame them? I include myself in this category of “irresponsible parents” because one of the damaging ways of coping I learned from my father was to deal with problems using anger. I don’t think that it would have been productive to have been reassured that I was dealing with things my own way and that my choices were valid and not “less.” And yes, I had to confront the fact that my way of doing things was wrong in order to change. I did feel shame when I contemplated the consequences of my actions. (And there are always consequences to our actions.) But that was part of the process.

            Of course people can be revolutionaries regardless of their size and regardless of all kinds of things. However, a person who is consumed with pain and indignant and injustice, and then drowns the feelings in a doughnut is less likely to go out and right the world, than someone who acknowledges the pain and uses it as a motivator to action. Would you not agree?

            The people on MIA who are revolutionary in their stance tend to be those who have been through and out the other side, not those who are still in the throes. Why might that be? Could it possibly be because being in the throes of binge-eating/psychosis/anorexia etc. debilitates the person to the extent that his activities are curtailed and they have withdrawn to an internal life?

            My intention was not to shame anyone. My intention was to illuminate the fact that people are often not making conscious informed choices, and therefore “respecting their choice” really translates to seeing them as less capable of choosing better.

            Yes, I do see some choices as better and others as worse. I see that you do too. In fact, I don’t imagine that there is anyone who disagrees, though some might try hard. This has nothing to do with shaming, just as I don’t shame my young children for acting like children. I just try to help them grow up. Of course, the extreme anarchists might think that children should be best left in the jungle to grow up “free of oppression.” Each to his own.

          • Gabi taylor

            You said: “a person who is consumed with pain and indignant and injustice, and then drowns the feelings in a doughnut is less likely to go out and right the world, than someone who acknowledges the pain and uses it as a motivator to action. Would you not agree?”

            No gabi, I agree with very little of what you are saying in this thread. And since you have missed the total essence of the blog I would hesitate to even validate any of your secondary points here.

            And BTW, there are many people here at MIA, and out there in the real world, who would “down the doughnut” and then march out in the street, or write a kick ass blog, that takes on this oppressive system, especially the oppression of women.

            And gabi, while you may not be eating the doughnuts, you have clearly imbibed a heavy dose of this sytem’s Kool Aid way of looking at the world. And when people point this out to you, you only tend to “double down” on these backward beliefs.

            And as I remember in a previous blog discussion you definitely steered clear of the “feminist ” label, AND clearly showed your lack of understanding of women’s oppression by opposing women’s right to control their own bodies and their reproductive rights, with your anti abortion stance.

            It is now clearer to me why you would also not understand women’s oppression as it pertains to “sizeism.”

            Richard

          • Wow, talk about personal attacks…
            So, everyone understands what they understand, and who are you to say I misunderstood the essence of the blog? I guess let Emily and Sara make that judgment for themselves, if they feel so inclined. Personally, I hadn’t noticed that it was specifically about female oppression, but whatever.

            What Kool Aid are you drinking that enables you to continue to believe that socialism is one day suddenly going to succeed after all the failed experiments you’ve seen in your lifetime? I don’t subscribe to the belief that we can cling to an utopian view of how things should be as some kind of answer to current problems. I think that today’s problems need to be dealt with in today’s reality, rather than by wishful thinking about how wonderful things will be when capitalism finally disappears.

            As for my backward beliefs, well, that’s just your view. I understand that you are passionate about women having the right to “control their reproductive processes” but unfortunately, that conflicts sometimes with the right of unborn babies to have a life. So it’s a matter of what’s more important to you.

            Anyway, thanks for the implied compliment about my secondary points.

    • Wow Gabi – I find my responses to what you’ve shared here so confusing. On the one hand, I really really like your point that – to have meaingful choices – I have to know what my choices are. That kind of knowledge and awareness feels totally essential and totally liberating to me. On the other hand, I have to say I really feel a lot closer to Kate and Emily and the way they are expressing themselves here. I get the feeling like, if I had a conversation with them, they would ‘get’ me – and also ‘get’ the very real challenges of my life and not judge me for the choices I decide to make. As a result, I’m pretty sure I would go away from my conversations with them feeling better rather than worse – and as a result probably have more energy to make choices that I would consider ‘healthy’ as would others. On the other hand, I guess the way you’re talking to others about choices here just ends up (possibly for reasons personal only to me) leading me to feel like I want to bash my head into concrete and go eat a dozen doughnuts to try to escape the feeling that some other human being has appointed themselves an authority over what is right for me and would happily substitute their judgment for mine if given half a chance. That’s the world I’ve lived most of my life in – and frankly – I end up wanting to die. Perhaps, like you say, it’s just a matter of semantics. But in that case, those particular semantics – and the ways that those in mainstream culture seem to be choosing to use them – really do end up creating feelings in me that I’d rather off myself than live in the world that those semantics seem to be describing or implying. Not saying you have to change your language, values or how your choosing to express yourself here on my account. Rather, just offering something to consider, given the concerns that are seeming to be expressed about how to promote the greatest health for the greatest numbers.

      • I really admire your honesty. I think it will get you far.
        I’m sorry that I came across as judgmental, but given that everyone has his own set of values, it’s kind-of inevitable.
        What Emily seems to be saying is that’s there’s no real difference between getting happiness from coke and chips, and getting it from a meaningful relationship – if it “feels right at the time” then go for it, and nobody has any right to consider it “less.”
        I also know what it is to enjoy junk food – and usually, I try to identify what the genuine need in me is at the time, and see how the junk is faking satisfying that need. I think that to look at another person and say “cupcakes is good enough for your happiness” is to degrade them as a human being. But that’s just my opinion.

        • I didn’t read that she’s saying that. What I’m reading is that it’s not OUR job to tell the other person what the best path is for them. Certainly, I don’t think anyone is unaware that drinking soda or beer is not good for your body. This is about judging PEOPLE for doing things you personally would not do. This includes giving unsolicited advice about “healthy choices.” If you have a friend who is doing things that seem destructive, I see nothing wrong with trying to communicate about that, as long as you’re not taking a position that you’re superior to them. If we get interested in their situation, other people can teach us a lot about what’s going on behind the behavior that is bothering us. This may lead us to realizing that our concern was misplaced, or that the actual issue is something very, very different than what is presented. But it’s not our decision what is or is not an issue someone wants/needs to work on or change – it’s the person’s decision, and the entire “mental health” industry invalidates that decision almost every time they encounter someone whose behavior seems “unhealthy” to the mainstream/status quo. The correlation between trying to “fix” someone who has a larger body and trying to “fix” someone who acts in ways you don’t understand is quite apt, in my observation. It all starts with the paternalistic assumption that you know better than someone else how they should behave.

          • I would suggest that the outside perspective can also hold value, as long as it is communicated with respect. We all can benefit from friendly advice (yes, even when unsolicited) at times. It doesn’t have to be paternalistic. And although I’ve gleaned from many of your comments that you believe firmly that the only person who can truly understand the situation is the person himself, I still think that this leaves a place for a compassionate other to offer a helping hand (and to accept that same helping hand in another area, where the other person can offer his own valuable insight).
            But Emily has stated quite explicitly in this article that she does not accept that there are more or less healthy choices in food. She argues that what does damage is people condemning others for their choices, and not the choices themselves. That’s an interesting point, but somewhat dodges personal responsibility. After all, as long as we still don’t live in Richard’s ideal world, we will all be dealing with adverse surroundings, so to pin the blame on “them out there” as a constant battle tactic seems rather futile.

          • The thing is, I don’t think she said that; I think she said that what is healthy/unhealthy or that what is a priority or not a priority is not something that an outside person can determine for someone else. And if you read my posts carefully, you’d see that offering support and perspectives is most definitely an important part of how I see people helping each other. It’s the paternalistic part that I object to, and it’s very, very easy to slip into that mode once we decide that WE know what is “better/worse” for someone else without bothering to consult them on their priorities and reasons.

        • I really like what you are pointing out here, Gabi. I think I try to do the same as you. I’ve thought for a long time that some of my habits – food especially – are about longing for deeper connections with myself and others. As much as possible (as much as I can stand it on a given day) I try to at least give those needs (which for me seem deeper and more satisfying when I can meet them) a chance. I also have to admit that my personal theory of life is that the need for meaningful, enduring connection with self and others IS probably a deeper need for many of us than for the temporary comfort that junk food seems to give me. At the same time, doing this work, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to hear a lot of different stories about why different people make the choices they make. What amazes me about that is that I’m continually amazed at how many factors weigh in, how complex these decisions can be, and how many factors affect other people profoundly that never even occurred to me. Painfully, I’ve embarrassed myself enough times in thinking that there was some issue that everybody just had to see the same way, only to have someone convincingly point out to me how much of the picture I missed when it came to them. That’s why, to me, it just seems safer, more respectful, and more supportive of everyone’s well being to recognize the limits of my own experience and my own understandings and do a heck of a lot of listening when someone asks for the attention to be flipped to their side of the coin.

          Adding a note here: Gabi, I also agree that there is a place for sharing information. Absolutely. That’s how I learn. I think what’s crucial for me is how it’s shared. What speaks to me most is when someone tells me what they choose to do for themself and why. Or they tell me what they personally have come to believe is true about something and why. This leaves me the space I need to reflect on whether their values and circumstances are similar to mine and whether the conclusions they have drawn seem rationale, principled and well-informed to me. If yes, then I’m likely to listen closely to what they say and struggle to reconcile and discrepancies between the path they have chosen for them and the path I am on for me. If I have the energy and resources, I will probably experiment with their path and observe whether I get the same results for me as they are reporting for them. On the other hand, if our values or life circumstances feel really different to me, or I don’t have the energy or resources to try what they suggest, or I don’t get the same results after a reasonable effort, I’ll probably go back to what I’ve been doing or look for something else.

          As I’m saying this, I’m realizing that this is probably why peer support speak to me so much. Because the learning process I’m describing here really is ‘peer’ support. It’s peer in the sense that each of us is approaching the other as a responsible equal who is entitled to make their own choices. It’s support because we’re sharing information and comparing notes that each of us hopes will lead to a step up in quality of living.

          • Sara, I really appreciate the depth of your responses and the respectful way you engage with people even those like me who can come off as a bit aggressive! You make excellent points and have added a lot of depth to this debate. I can imagine that your ability to see the other point of view came partly out of disillusionment with the legal profession and you certainly don’t fit the normal paradigm of a lawyer!

            Steve, I think that we can agree that sometimes, an outside person has more perspective on someone’s choices and situation, and can gently lead that person to increased insight. Yes, only that person himself can get the insight in the end, but sometimes it needs that nudge from without to get there.

            I’m reminded of a friend who told me about a difficult time she was going through in her marriage, and how it led to her binge-eating. She said, “Those six doughnuts were the only good thing in my life.” I didn’t comment on her choices, although I could easily have pointed out that she had at the time two healthy children, enough income, a house etc.

            One person on this thread has pointed out that junk food, sugar etc. hijacks the brain processes that give instant gratification, and it’s so easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we are giving ourselves something when we indulge. My point (I think!) is that junk food is seen as an answer when really it is just confounding the problem and covering up the issues. My friend really believed that the only good thing she had was the food, and she’s an intelligent person. This really suggests that something more is going on than just filling our stomachs.

            I’ve known this topic from the other end of the stick – from being anorexic, though I wouldn’t actually say it’s the same in the other direction. However, when I was “indulging” on the sensation of being famished, I was most absolutely not engaging with the world and dealing with my issues. I simply withdrew into my little world of (no) food. As a coping style, it was pretty lousy as it could easily have killed me. I don’t think anyone could make the argument that however bad it is to starve yourself, it might be the right decision at the time. What I most definitely did not need back then was someone telling me, “I respect your choice to starve yourself.” What I might have been open to hearing is “I’m trying to understand what pain you might be feeling that leads you to treat yourself this way.”

            I still insist that a person who is essentially abusing his or her body (by bingeing, starving, or prostituting themselves and making themselves into a physical commodity etc.) is not in need of respect for making that “choice.” You can certainly respect them for struggling to survive in a crazy world, but that is not the same thing as relating to their actions as if they come from a place of free, informed choice.

          • That’s exactly the problem– Gabi does not “approach the other as a responsible equal who is entitled to make their own choices.” She views fat people as either ignorant or irresponsible, and either way she knows better than them, so no, not equals.

          • Yes, in some areas, I may know better than someone else. In other areas, someone else knows better than me. If someone is making a truly informed decision to eat pancakes with syrup rather than peanut butter on ricecakes, wonderful. If I decide to open an account with a certain bank and have no idea that another one would be better for me because I lack the ability to make a proper comparison (which could easily happen to me because I am terrible at such things) then I would appreciate a helping hand, and being given affirmations for my choice as a responsible adult would not just not be helpful, but could be harmful.
            It’s your choice – if you want to stubbornly insist on being expert on every aspect of your life, even when you’re not, then you’re likely to make some big mistakes. If you think that’s a price worth paying, go right ahead.

          • Ah, but here’s the difference, Gabi-

            I would not presume just by looking at you that I know anything about your “financial health”- I recognize there are lots of people with a lot of financial security who do not feel the need to advertise it via displays of wealth, and there are plenty of folks living quite flashy well beyond their means. So I’m not about to presume at a glance that you have a financial problem and need help. And even if there was a big hack/reveal tomorrow and I could peer into your accounts, see all your transactions and judge your choices, I would recognize that I’m intruding because your finances are personal and none of my freakin’ business to feel entitled to opine about.

          • Why do you assume that I go around telling fat people what to do? (I don’t, by the way.)
            Unfortunately for fat people – and thin ones too – the results of their choices are on public display, like it or not. Yes, many fat people live healthily and exercise, and many thin people eat garbage and sit in an office all day. But in general, obese people are that way for a reason.
            Please, don’t tell me you don’t automatically make all kinds of assumptions about people based on (the little) you know of them. You might consciously fight that, and keep telling yourself that you really don’t know anything, but that’s just the world we live in. We have to make judgments, to an extent, in order to inform our decisions – is this a person I can trust? Is this someone I want to ask advice from? Etc. So while your stance sounds wonderful in theory, that’s just not how the world works.

          • Just to try and make myself clearer (though I anticipate that you will twist my words in any case):
            I do not condemn or despise people for being fat/thin/otherwise, neither do I see that as okay to do.
            However, I do make certain assumptions about a person who is, for instance, obese – specifically, I assume that emotional issues play a part in their food decisions. Because a person in equilibrium tends towards health whereas a person out of whack doesn’t. And yes, all of us are out of whack, and it shows up in all kinds of ways – obesity is just one of them.
            Nowhere did I imply or state that I look down on such people (though we all know that many people do). If you still feel some kind of pleasure in attacking me, go right ahead. I really don’t care.

    • Slavoj Zizek makes this point as well:

      If I were to engage in paranoiac speculations, I would be much more inclined to say that the Politically Correct obsessive regulations (like the obligatory naming of different sexual identities, with legal measures taken if one violates them) are rather a Left-liberal plot to destroy any actual radical Left movement. Suffice it to recall the animosity against Bernie Sanders among some LGBT+ and feminist circles, whose members have no problems with big corporate bosses supporting them. The “cultural” focus of PC and #MeToo is, to put it in a simplified way, a desperate attempt to avoid the confrontation with actual economic and political problems, i.e., to locate women’s oppression and racism in their socio-economic context…Liberals will have to take note that there is a growing radical Left critique of PC, identity politics and #MeToo…

      • ‘scuse the incoherence and clumsiness…my ‘device’ is a pos added to the fact my Internet connection unreliable. No sleep for several days inhibits good communication.

        But yeah, Identity Politics keeps our eyes (& hearts and minds) off the ball…

      • To quote Noam Chomsky, Žižek is guilty of “using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever.” and also said that Žižek’s theories never go “beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old.”

          • He is also apparently oblivious to anti-psychiatry.

            Do you really mean anti-Marxist (as opposed to non-Marxist)? Never thought about this, but what does he consider himself in that case, an anarchist?

          • I think he considers himself an anarcho-syndicalist. He seems to value Marx’s work hardly at all and to constantly talk up Bakunin. Perhaps because of this influence, he’s also a very black-and-white thinker when it comes to the Soviet Union and other experiments at socialism.

      • (like the obligatory naming of different sexual identities, with legal measures taken if one violates them)

        This isn’t a thing, and the criticisms of Sanders from some LGBT people and feminists probably had more to do with the fact they are neoliberals than it did with their LGBT or feminist status. And sometimes I think that Zizek is a closet reactionary.

        I agree with you about cigarettes, though. Was about to make the same analogy.

    • That could actually be a really interesting discussion. I’ve known a few psych patients who were able to leave the hospital and live in a recovery residence, but got booted and sent back to the hospital for having cigarettes in their rooms. Also considering that nicotine can help counteract the effects of neuroleptics, that does seem like an important discussion to be having in our community.

    • Same arguments apply to the extent that telling smokers they are bad people for smoking is disrespectful and unhelpful.

      However, there are pretty big differences in the situation:

      1) You can’t quit eating. Everyone has to eat something, and there are a ton of cultural forces that determine what’s available, what’s portrayed as desirable, and what is “forbidden fruit.”

      2) Assuming fat people eat poorly is neither respectful nor correct. Lots of skinny people eat like crap and lots of fat people eat healthy diets and exercise plenty. There is no similar association that cigarette smokers are somehow inadequate in some part of their lives that is reflected in their smoking.

      3) Smoking has never been used as a means of disparaging a particular gender in the way fat-shaming has been used. Nothing even close. Worry about being fat vs. skinny vs. “normal” is driven into every woman in the USA from birth onward in a way that smoking/not smoking never has been or will be. In fact, smoking was long considered a strong sign of “coolness.” Pretty sure there is nowhere in US or Western industrial culture where being fat is considered “cool.”

      I am sure that others can contribute further to this list.

      — Steve

      • Most of these differences are valid, but they are beside the point.

        There is no similar association that cigarette smokers are somehow inadequate in some part of their lives that is reflected in their smoking.

        Really? That wasn’t my experience as a smoker.

          • Maybe it depends on where you live. I have been in places where it was considered perfectly normal and I have been in other places where it was taken as a sign that the smoker lacked discipline, was unhealthy, was a lowlife, was poor, was uneducated, or any other number of things.

            But again, I think the original point of bringing up smoking in this context was to say that most people would not claim that smoking cigarettes is good for you just because some individuals find it useful as a coping method or because they enjoy it.

          • Emily, I seem to disagree with your viewpoint here, but I want you to know that if I misrepresented your position on anything it was not intentional.

            As for smoking, yes – I maintain that smoking’s usefulness as a harm reduction measure for some individuals in specific circumstances does not make cigarettes good for me, you, or anyone. I was a smoker for a long time and I used smoking as a coping method myself, but that doesn’t change the fact that cigarettes are horrible for one’s health.

          • Thank you Emily. I also think that your words were being twisted earlier. More often than not, I do believe that people are making the best choices they can given their circumstances. I’ve also known people who say that smoking saved their lives. Some of those same people have also worked hard to quit smoking when they had the resources and availability to do that. I think this also parallels with decisions people make around psych drugs, when and why people use them, and when and why they try to taper off of them. I think generally the public is well aware of the risks of smoking, and cigarette packages contain warnings of those risks. Similarly, snack foods contain nutrition facts and the public has been inundated in recent years with information about their risks. So even though both may be viewed as “unhealthy”, people generally make an informed decision to use them, as coping and survival skills. I do think there is a difference, as Steve pointed out, that we do need food to live and can’t quit eating. People who live in food deserts or have limited financial resources, or are disabled or busy and can’t spend a lot of time preparing meals, end up having limited options. We should never shame people for what food they eat. We also shouldn’t shame people for smoking, that’s not helpful.

          • Uprising: I thought I said that. It’s not about smoking or eating certain foods or whatever is good or bad for your health. It’s about judging and shaming and making assumptions about others because they are fat, smoke, or are diagnosed “mentally ill.” Unlike some who post here, I totally think it’s possible for one person to help another person in a professional or non-professional capacity. But the first prerequisite is to not judge a person’s actions, but instead to find out what’s going on. A person who drinks all the time is going to kill him/herself eventually, but I’m not going to start on a tirade on how drinking’s bad for you – I’m going to get to know that person and build some trust and perhaps find out what drinking does for that person (what need it meets) and why they think it’s important and what is underlying it and whether or not they see it as something they want to change or if perhaps there is something else that they want to change but don’t feel they can and hence the drinking as a means of coping. You get the idea. It’s not about whether smoking is healthy. It’s about assuming you know better than the other person what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

          • There is a huge difference between shaming a person because of smoking and the statement on the side of a pack of cigarettes that smoking causes lung cancer, which one can read if one chooses, or not read.

            I know people who may have said smoking helped them not drink alcohol. So maybe smoking saved them? Do antidepressants “save” people, too? There are consequences…..

          • Choose you Russian roulette weapon carefully, poison, pistol or cancer sticks? Pay no attention to that warning on the side of the package. The surgeon general has determined smoking causes cancer. Who reads the fine-print anyway these days. I’m sure it’s an accident that these companies have faced such major legal actions. Buy, buy, buy….It’s only the American way.

          • I smoked because everyone at the day center smoked. I thought maybe smoking would cure my ED, but it didn’t. For a few years I felt compelled to smoke. I believe that at the time, being on neuroleptic drugs heightened my urge to continue smoking, but I managed to quit anyway.

          • No. You seem to miss the point. Sex is anatomical. Gender is social programming. So unless Steve meant to refer to something other than men as compared to women the appropriate term is “sex.”

          • I’m kind of working from Kate’s assumption here – a person identifying as female, regardless of their sex, would most likely experience similar pressures to be slim, attractive, well made-up, shaved legs, etc. I could be wrong, but that would be my assumption. Naturally, there are people of any gender who are working to challenge these assumptions, but that seems to be the pressure society places – females have to be sexy, slim and attractive, while males who are powerful can be fat, ugly and stupid and still be OK.

          • Steve, Some, not all, women value these things. Only some women wear makeup and only some feel that shaving their legs is important. Only some feel that wearing glamorous clothing means beauty. Only some wear fancy jewelry or anything supposedly “sexy.”

            I am proud to say I don’t fit into that category and never did. I don’t know why. I never valued those things, never even spent time in front of the mirror, never paint my nails nor spend time shopping for frilly clothing. Clothes are for warmth and protection only, for practicality. I braid my hair because it’s the best way to keep it from tangling. To decorate the body seems wasteful, but that’s my own personal value and I realize other people think it’s great to play dress-up and I need to try to respect that more.

          • Thanks, Julie! I am well aware that some women choose not to worry about glamour and whatnot, as my wife is one of them. Nonetheless, she and all of us have received countless messages that say “women can’t be fat.” The fact that some rise above it doesn’t make the shaming any less real, or any less differentiated by gender. I’m glad you’ve somehow managed to like yourself the way you are – I find that you are a rare person in our culture!

      • I’ve experienced discrimination as a heavy person and also was discrimination when I was underweight. I remember hearing microagressions, remarks about my weight that were totally uncalled for and rude. Like once I was in a thrift store and someone commented that I could “fit through the aisle.” Or various other rude comments. Since when is weight-based commentary only inappropriate if aimed at “fat people”?

      • I do the same. I have actually gotten to the point where I really DON’T care what a lot of people think, but still, people who I care about have an effect. I’ve worked on being honest about this effect, but it’s still a very natural source of anxiety for me and a lot of people. Not caring means being disconnected, and we all want to feel connected to someone or something, or most of us do, anyway. It’s the disconnected ones who are OK with it that scare me!

        • As I get older, I’m less concerned about what other (talking strangers) think of me…I DO try to maintain my mostly good reputation, practice listening skills, and aim for kindness as a lodestone. But in my advanced age, I know a lot about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, my intuition tells me when to let loose and when to hold back. Yeah, honestly, I haven’t got to a place where (for example) I feel comfortable not wearing a bra I HATE WEARING A BRA! in certain situations…and while self-reflection is important, this obsessing about how one is perceived seems to me a part of this hyper-individualized atomization that is encouraged in this culture.

          The fact is: nobody really thinks that hard about YOU! Having an opportunity to get to know someone who looks or acts different makes one realize we all have our burdens. Everyone is doing the best they can.

          In the scheme of things, you really aren’t that important.

          Just my take…

      • I think most people WILL care what a cop thinks of them during a routine traffic stop. I think most will care what the HR person thinks of them during the job interview. You are likely going to care that they don’t think of you as a typical terrorist while you are walking through an airport. The day I locked myself out of the house, right after I moved here, the cops didn’t even ask me for identification. Why? Because they took one look and decided I “looked honest.” I’m just little ole me who stepped out with her dog. So yes, unless you are seriously drugged or very young, you do care. Only people rarely realize how much they care until they’re on the other side of the profiling fence.

        • To expect acceptance from everyone is unrealistic, considering how many people are out there.

          The other day I received negative feedback at my Toastmaster’s meeting. I was shocked at the amount of negative, and so little positive feedback. I had enough self-esteem to know that my speech was one of the best I have ever given, and also very different from what I usually give there. Why the negative feedback? At first i was dumbfounded.

          Harsh, negative feedback is not the norm for this meeting. However, I wondered very briefly if the speech I had given was simply a bad speech. I realized that the speech was excellent, but the venue was wrong. It was a mismatch. At Toastmasters they don’t expect “art” and “poetry.” They’d rather have a concrete, sappy story. Many of the nuances in the speech flew over people’s heads.

          So inside, I told myself I would not toss the speech, nor take the negative feedback very seriously. I would take the speech to a different audience, an artsy audience, maybe a poetry reading or some such thing, because really it was performance poetry, not a speech per se.

          The fact that I was able to shake off the harsh criticism and move past it says something about self-esteem. I couldn’t have done this during the couple of years after psychiatric abuse (abuse by therapist and abuse while inpatient). Psych abuse shakes you up very badly and makes you vulnerable.

          The fact that I handled the negative criticism well also says a lot about my fellow Toastmasters’ faith in me. They would not have given me this harsh feedback if they thought I would not have been able to “handle it,” or if they thought I was “sensitive” or that I’d crumble if I heard it. They knew I would not. They would not have given feedback like this to a rank beginner. They made it clear that they set the bar high for me. I took this as about the best compliment you could get. It was an amazing learning experience.

    • Oldhead

      You said: “Also is it perhaps worth pointing out that “shaming” is impossible if you don’t give a shit what someone thinks of you?”

      The reality is that we are all SOCIAL human beings who need and require positive social interaction with others. And people can CLAIM that they don’t give a shit, but THEY DO! Shaming matters, and must be opposed as the authors have so eloquently advocated.

      Here I am talking about caring what people think from social groups we are attracted to and/or tend to hang out with. Of course I don’t really care if the far Right Wing dislikes me, and if they don’t dislike me, then I am probably not doing my job as a moral and justice seeking human being making my voice heard.

      Richard

      • Believe me, there are MANY people who I couldn’t care less what they think, as long as they leave me the fuck alone. I don’t expect that to change. It’s very important to not waste energy getting bent out of shape by others’ expectations and demands, unless you’ve made a conscious decision that those are the people whose values and goal you share. Those are the people with whom I most value “positive social interaction.” Most of the world — or maybe I should limit that to America — is crazy.

  11. I just ran into the Zizek quote randomlly…and it seemed relavent to this ‘discussion’. I don’t know jack about philosophy…

    All this self-absorption seems narcissistic to me…in a perfect world we all would be judged (ha, here’s another one from the ol’ jumbled brain vaults:) by the content of our character. Unfortunately, we live in this society where cultural norms have been established by Bernaisian advertising schemes. Brought to you by…capitalism. Our common enemy.

    The first thing a human notices when encountering another human is what sex they are…I wished for years that I could just be seen as another ‘humanbeing’ and not just a meatsock. Now that I’m old, I’m just invisible. (Hey, maybe I should write an article about how unfair THAT is…)

    Self acceptance, imnsho, comes from spending time *outside oneself*, involved with the world, where eventually you DO learn not to give a shit what other people think.

    • I just ran into the Zizek quote randomlly…and it seemed relavent to this ‘discussion’.

      I think that the point you were trying to make – that neoliberal identity politics (i.e. tokenism and “intersectionality” without a critique of capitalist exploitation of the working class) is a distraction from the economic system that negatively affects most of us – is highly relevant to this discussion. Unfortunately, Zizek seems to buy into the brocialist idea that we can’t critique capitalism and also defend sexual and gender minorities.

  12. I think it’s true that a really powerful sense of self combats shaming, scapegoating, shunning, and marginalizing because when we are well-grounded in our personal reality, we can ascend the temptation to identify with the projection– and, in turn, falling victim to it–by perceiving these not as personal attacks, but more so, we can attribute the need to project such blatant negativity onto others as a symptom of a toxic society, which I believe is truth. Those that project shame live in glass houses, guaranteed.

    Shame is a toxic energy, the way radioactive waste spoils the environment. Shame is dispiriting and greatly diminishes life force, leading to all sorts of illness and self-neglect. It’s also been known to kill people.

      • Either projected, introjected, or implied, shame is toxic. Those who project it onto others are not owning their own lack of self-worth and feel threatened (fear) in the face of differences, I would imagine. These are communities which attempt to marginalize others, the weapon being “shame.” Those projected onto would be the scapegoats of that community, to keep “the shadow” at bay, so to speak.

        But one cannot be marginalized or scapegoated if one has a good sense of self and knows where their community of affinity is. Where there is affinity, there can be no shame. Conversely, where there is shame, there can be no affinity. That’s what I believe makes it toxic.

          • That is unfortunately true, Julie. So what would be the survival mechanism for someone in this situation? And what can be done about it, in general, for those who face chronic loneliness and social alienation? Considering the audience here, I think that particular discussion would be of enormous value, imo.

  13. You didn’t cover weight gain from antipsychotic drugs. I have seen the fat acceptance ideas used as argument by therapists and psychs to stay on these drugs. “Yes, you are gaining weight but accept yourself! Keep taking the drugs, don’t complain, and love yourself anyway!” It’s a bullshit argument for complacency, for failing to take action.

    Any ideology can be used for good or bad. Psychiatry has used fat acceptance to support drugging people with Zyprexa and other similar drugs that cause diabetes and early death.

    On the other hand, fat acceptance has helped many people, when the ideology is used constructively.

    Is there any way to be notified of these sooner? It seems I always come in on the tail end and I never heard about the May 24th event as well.

    • I was a little put off by the “sizeism” position myself. Suicide by overeating happens, but I wouldn’t advise doing it. Obesity is a big problem in many parts of this country. I’d say it’s a good thing, in some instances, that people are “fat shamed” into shedding the pounds.

      The fat acceptance argument as an argument for taking brain shrinking physique destroying chemicals, too. Do you have to? No, of course, not. I don’t think you’re going to get to the place where you say it’s not okay to stay trim, however, excess of any sort can be an issue, if not requiring shaming, requiring some sort of stop, listen, think….Time to put one’s foot down on the moral breaks.

      Certainly if gluttony is the vice we’re dealing with here, there is nothing wrong with doing a little something to contain it.

  14. Sarah — I’m reinstituting the above conversation way down here because the thread’s just too damn long.

    I thought your comments on “law” were spot on in many ways. I think that any time a society resorts to force (“law”) it means that there’s a problem with the way that society is set up: a contradiction in values, an inequity of some sort, etc. But of course this is and has long ben the practical state of things, so in situations when our collective imagination still hasn’t come up with “chill” solutions to greed, exploitation and other crimes it becomes necessary to resort the force of law. Until such time as social/economic relations have improved to the point of voluntary cooperation between all peoples, the best we can do is enact “laws” which stand the best chance of representing the will of the largest segment of the population.

    I do put “law” in quotes however, as the only true laws ate those which govern the universe of which we are a microcosm, and which men can only emulate. (And I don’t use “men” generically here but literally, as currently very few women are making laws.)

    To be sure, almost no one has that kind of freedom in this society – but we could.

    Love your optimism — the only problem with your above statement is the word “this.” This society is carefully structured to prevent the sort of vision you articulate (while convincing even “progressive” people that they are living in a democracy). But the system is also a “paper tiger,” and could collapse like a house of cards as soon as people learn to recognize, and use, our collective power.

  15. Alex, A lot of people are disenfranchised due to acts of cruelty done to them. It takes a while to realize that not everyone is cruel. Some people keep knocking on the same doors over and over. They hope for acceptance from impossible places. You just have to realize how to stop looking to those who are cruel. That can take years.